10 of the best things to do in Panama

By Maelle Denoule

For the past 10 years, tourism in Panama has grown considerably, attracting more and more visitors around the world for its canal, but also for its marvelous environment. Located in Central America between Costa Rica and Colombia, and bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and on the south by the Pacific Ocean, the isthmus is a land bridge for an important number of mammals and bird’s species.

Nevertheless, the number of travelers to Panama is still relatively small compared with Costa Rica. But contrary to his neighbor, Panama still have plenty of treasures under-explored to discover. In fact, due to its unique geographical position, Panama provides paradisiac places, a variety of landscapes and an incredible biodiversity which offer travelers, an access to incredible adventures and sustainable experiences.

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Home of an amazing ecosystem, Panama gives you the opportunity to discover a rich culture and unique nature.   Our 10 best things to do in Panama:

Cultural exchange with local communities

With 7 indigenous communities around the country, Panama offers you the unique opportunity to share a cultural experience.  Their traditional lifestyle and their close relationship with nature will impact your life forever.  This authentic experience that everyone should live once in Panama, contributes at the same time to the conservation of these communities,  their culture and empower their economies.

Chocolate Tours

See the pygmy three-toed sloth in Escudo Island 

Another reason why Panama should be your next destination is to see the pygmy three-toed sloth, also known as the monk sloth or dwarf sloth. This sloth can only be found in only one place in the world: National park Escudo Island, a small island off the coast of Panama, situated in the province of Veraguas.

With no official permanent residents on the island, you can have the incredible chance to see lots of them, but it remains very important to not feed them. Indeed, wild animals who depend on people for food can cause injuries or spread disease, but also increase the chances of fighting and injury among animals.

Snorkel or scuba dive in Gulf of Chiriqui

Humpback whales, sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, orcas, whale sharks, tiger sharks, and many more marine mammals and animals can be seen while swimming there. With around 760 species of fish, the Gulf of Chiriqui is becoming one of the favorite places for scuba divers and snorkelers in Panama.

Panama Canal Transit

Impossible to miss one of the world’s greatest human-made marvels, the Panama Canal. To learn about this fantastic engineering, nothing better than experience a transit. During the transit aboard the Pacific Queen, enjoy the splendorous Bay of Panama and pass by the Miraflores Locks where you can watch the locks operate. Discover at the same time its history while following the most enormous cargos and cruise ships of the world!

Volcan Baru’s summit

Located in the highlands of Chiriquí, the impressive Baru Volcano’s worth the detour. Down from its 3 474 meters, this dormant volcano is the highest mountain of Panama and one of the only places in the world from where you can see at the same time, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Apart from the breath-taking panoramic views at the top of the volcano, this one is also surrounded by lush jungle, offering the chance, during your summit, to see different birds of Central America, and if you’re lucky, the resplendent quetzal. Adrenaline guaranteed for this extremely challenging trail.

Visit a coffee plantation in Boquete

Did you know the country is world famous for the Geisha Coffee? Actually, one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world comes from Panama. So, if you love coffee, Boquete must be one of the stops of your itinerary. Thanks to the volcanic ash situated in the soil of the region, local farms have found the best place for the coffee to grow up and make it so special. Visit one of the coffee plantations and learn about its process. There, you will maybe have the privilege to taste one of the most exquisite coffee in the world!

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Surf in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean

Although, if the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Coast is famed for its relaxing long white sand beaches with palm trees, it’s also the best place to surf and have fun with the waves. Unlike Costa Rica, Panama is still virgin and only a few people know about Panama’s surfing potential. El Palmar, Santa Catalina, Playa Vaneo, and many other beaches can provide you the best surfing spots of Central America. Surfers? You will love it!

Try on traditional Panamanian clothing: the Pollera

Panama is also the land of a rich culture. To not lose a crumb of Panama, we invite you to discover in Pedasi, the traditional Panamanian clothing: the Pollera. National dress of Panama worn by women for festivals or celebrations is also one of the most admired national costumes of the Americas. Handmade and very colorful, this traditional dress with Spanish colonial influences is the pride of all Panamanians. Men are well, have their own traditional costume they wear during festivities. Why not try it on to make you feel, for a moment, like a real Panamanian?!

Panamanian Pollera
a girl with Pollera in Pedasi, Azuero Peninsula, Panama

Whale watching while migration season

Have you always dreamt to see whales? It is possible in Panama! In fact, humpback whales come to Panama every year, between July and October, to migrate and give birth, making the isthmus, one of the few places in the planet where you can see these majestic mammals. Many species of whales and dolphins can be found in Panama’s water during that period of the year, especially in the archipelago of the Pearl Islands, on the Pacific Coast.

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Taste 5 typical dishes of Panama

Even if Panama is not known internationally for its cuisine, the food is however very tasty and diverse. Made with local and fresh ingredients, Panamanian cuisine is a mix of traditional cooking methods from diverse regions of Panama. Consequently, it’s very common to find dishes made from coconut, seafood, root vegetables, and tropical fruits along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but also root vegetables, starchy fruits, livestock, chicken, beans and rice, eaten everywhere in the country. Enough ingredients to make a variety of delicious typical Panamanian dishes.  You can’t miss the Panamanian Ceviche!

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A day in the Tropical Rainforest

By Raffaele Capomolla

Yesterday the EcoCircuitos team had the great pleasure to offer a morning rainforest tour to a group of travelers from Australia.  This group has been exploring different sights of Panama and yesterday  they have a wonderful day in the Rainforest.  We want to share with you some of the pictures of this trip.   Our guests enjoyed a delicious lunch with a stunning view over the rainforest and having some very beautiful Hummingbirds to bear company.

Our guests enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Rainforest Discovery Center, an environmental facility that focus on birds habitats.  They learn about the efforts in Panama to support conservation throughout the tourism industry.   The place offers stunning views over the rainforest and having some very beautiful Hummingbirds to bear company and to practice Photography.

Our naturalist guide Kenny Weeks was explaining the group about how Panama is the Isthmus that changes the world by becoming a bridge between continents and offering different interpretations of the tropical rainforest.

As  Tony Coates  mention in an interviewAll the animals of South America would be unique marsupials, like in Australia, very different to today because they would never have been invaded and overtaken by all the species that colonized from North America. The Caribbean and the East Pacific would be one ocean with similar species; today they are very different with corals reefs abundant in the Caribbean but without large supplies of commercial fish, whereas the Pacific has few small coral reefs and large important commercial fisheries. Humans from Asia might not have reached South America via the Bering Land Bridge from the north so different kinds of humans might have arrived, say, from Polynesia. Columbus might have sailed on to Asia! The Ice Age would have been different and Europe’s ports might freeze every winter like the Saint Laurence seaway does. El Niño and climates in other parts of the world might have been different in ways that we still do not fully understand.”

After lunch the group went for a nice hike through the trails surrounding the Rainforest Discovery Center at the core of the Soberania National park, more precisely the Pipeline Road called ‘Camino del oleoducto’, and went up to the top of the tower which has an incredible view over the tree tops. With a little bit of luck, you can see Monkeys, Sloths and beautiful birds in this amazing National Park.

For more information on this tour and others please click here

New Coffee Farm: Finca Ceriana

Strategically located between the highlands and lowlands of Chiriquí, Finca Ceriana forms part of a privately protected area for the conservation of flora and fauna in the region.

One of Finca Ceriana’s unique characteristics is the number of bird species and other animals from the upper and lower mountain areas. The property is part of the biological corridor that hosts the famous volcano lagoons and a large variety of animal and plant species. Apart from being an important migration zone for birds, the biological corridor of the lagoons and Finca Ceriana is vital for the wellbeing of the protected areas of La Amistad International Park and Baru Volcano National Park. 

The farm offers its visitors easy nature trails for outdoor activities and particularly bird watching, a unique canopy tower, gourmet picnic, sugar cane mill and much more. The total area counts 10 hectares of protected land and nearly 3 kilometers of nature trails, in addition to one of the most beautiful views to Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce and Osa peninsula as well as to Punta Burica in Panama.

 

Army Ant

One of the most interesting ants of the tropics are the army ants, which march through the rainforest with the sole intent of devouring small creatures within minutes, turning them into carcasses.  The army is like a wolf pack, but with thousands of miniature creatures of prey merging and uniting to form one great living organism.  Army ants´ jaws are so potent, Indians once used them to suture wounds.  The determined insect was held over a cut and its body squeezed so that its jaws intuitively shut, clamping the flesh together.  The body was then pinched off and the wound left to heal.

Another feature is that, unlike most ant species, army ants do not construct permanent nests; an army ant colony moves almost incessantly over the time it exists. All species are members of the true ant family, Formicidae, but several groups have independently evolved the same basic behavioral and ecological syndrome. This syndrome is often referred to as “legionary behavior”, and is an example of convergent evolution.

Slow-moving shallows put the heat on Bocas Coral

From STRI.org

Snorkel-perfect coral reefs in the calm, mangrove-fringed waters of the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago are expected to be among the hardest hit by warmer temperatures that lead to coral bleaching and mortality, a new study finds. These shallows in Panama’s Caribbean are characterized by low water flow, allowing water to reach precariously high sea surface temperature (SST) when compared to areas with greater water movement.

Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach of the University of Virginia tapped into a wealth of long-term monitoring data collected by STRI scientists around the Bocas Del Toro Research Station, including coral bleaching records. Their models were published this May in the journal Coral Reefs.

“By 2084, almost all coral reefs are susceptible to bleaching-induced mortality, except for a region of relatively lower thermal stress along the outer boundary of the archipelago,” they write. “By 2084, only corals exposed to open ocean currents are predicted to survive.”

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There are some caveats. The key to heat-induced coral bleaching is not a single blast of hot water, rather long-term exposure to above-threshold temperatures. This is measured in degree heating weeks (DHW). By the end of the study period DHW >8 °C-weeks were modeled for the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts widespread bleaching and significant mortality under these conditions. By comparison, DHW values during a 2010 Bocas bleaching event ranged between 2.3 °C-weeks and 9.5 °C-weeks.

Some coral species may adapt to higher temperatures. The study’s models predict that areas flushed by cooler water will have a higher chance at surviving well into the future.

Li and Reidenbach studied modern water-flow patterns, simulated heating scenarios for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, and quantified local thermal stress on coral reefs. While previous studies have looked at SST impact on corals at a large scale, the researchers focused on a much smaller spatial scale, which is less common. The fine scale of their work better lends itself to the creation of mitigation strategies for marine protected areas in Bocas.

“Our findings are also likely applicable to many coral reef regions worldwide, and in particular reefs that are found in shallow and partially enclosed coastal regions with long water retention times,” they conclude.